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Cooper T51

Cooper T51 1950s classic GP racing car

The Cooper T51 is one of the most radical racing cars ever built. John Cooper, and his small-scale team, took the prevailing motorsport wisdom of the time - and trashed it! Well, turned it on its head, at any rate. In 1959, it was a given that a racing car's engine sat at the front. Cooper - and his équipe - questioned that established practice. In so doing, they revolutionised race-car design. The T51 would be rear-engined - with all of the technical turnarounds that entailed. They were to be well worth the effort, however. 'Black Jack' Brabham took the '59 drivers' title, in the T51.

The 'Cooper-Climax' car sowed the rear-engined seeds, in '58. It won two GPs, early in the season. Notwithstanding that, the car was taken less than seriously. Its success was put down to its squat dimensions. It was only quick at 'twisty' circuits, it was said. And it was true that the Cooper was down on power, compared to the competition. But there was a reason for that. Its motor was an F2 unit - enlarged to 2.2 litres. The front-engined brigade were using 2.5-litre motors. In F1, small fractions make a big difference!

Happily, the T51 was fitted with the full 2.5-litre powerplant. Cooper's engine supplier - Coventry Climax - had increased the stroke. The Cooper now kicked out 230bhp. That was still less than its rivals - but its handling advantage was enough to see them off. The rear-engined set-up had knock-on effects. With no prop-shaft now needed, the driver sat lower - with all of the streamlining benefits that brought. And when it came to weight-saving, there was more than just junking the prop-shaft. With engine and final drive directly linked, their structural surrounds could be less robust. And the T51's mass was more centrally-aligned - making it more manoeuvrable. Tyre wear, in turn, improved. As for the T51's driving roster - it was impressive, to say the least. As well as Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss and Bruce McLaren were on call. Both the Monaco and British GPs duly fell to the Cooper - en route to the World Championship, at the first time of asking. That was testament to the impact the T51 made. Cooper had re-written the F1 tech spec in ways which would never be reversed.


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